Study measures social value of key coastal assets

Australians love their beaches, and now a new study also confirms the broad appeal of other coastal assets such as coastal wetlands and protected areas.

 In one of the first studies of its kind in Australia, Flinders University environment and marine ecology experts have conducted an Adelaide-based survey of how residents connect with and rate the attributes of Adelaide’s northern metropolitan coastal wetlands (see map). 

The findings, just published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy, report strong appreciation of the natural features of these coastal places, with study participants rating them highly – and identifying their importance for personal wellbeing which underpins a need for closer controls on further development or degradation of these important community spaces, researchers say. 

 “People who visited the study region for recreation and work identified a personal bond with the places like the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and other coastal national parks and places along this unique coastline which is so close to the city – added reasons to take good care of these precious resources,” says CASPR member, Flinders University geographer Associate Professor Beverley Clarke.

The study used a ‘cultural ecosystem services’ framework to assess residents’ perceptions about the benefits they gained from these wetlands. 

“Translating the benefits people receive from coastal ecosystems in a way that is usable to policy-makers and environmental managers is important but challenging,” says Associate Professor Clarke. 

“Here we have been able to document health and wellbeing benefits expressed by the people who experience these places. As well as simply appreciating the natural landscape, it is through their activities that citizens developed an attachment to the coastline.  

“People value these places as they become familiar with them,” say Associate Professor Clarke, a life member of the Australian Coastal Society. Co-author marine biologist, Professor Sabine Dittmann, says the benefit of this social values survey is that it reflects “what matters most to people”.

Professor Dittmann, CASPR Associate, is an expert in coastal ecosystem ecology at Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering and involved in carbon sequestration and saltmarsh restoration projects at Dry Creek north of Adelaide.

Irrespective of their socio-ecological and climatic importance, coastal wetlands around the world are among the most threatened of all environments, facing human-induced pressures of landscape modification for agriculture and urbanisation, and climate-induced sea level rises.

 The researchers note that building awareness of the social benefits of restoring these sometimes under-appreciated wetlands may help generate support for protecting – rather than developing – these threatened landscapes.

The new paper, ‘Integrating Cultural Ecosystem Services valuation into coastal wetlands restoration: A case study from South Australia (2021) by B Clarke, AK Thet, H Sandhu, S Dittmann has been published in Environmental Science and Policy (Elsevier) DOI:  10.1016/j.envsci.2020.11.014